Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Exploring for Insects
Nature Bulletin No. 722   September 7, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

People come in contact with insects more often than with any other members of the animal kingdom. We slap mosquitoes, swat flies, dust ilea powder on the dog, pack moth balls with our winter clothes, and brush ants from our picnic lunch, But, except for a nodding acquaintanceship with a few kinds, most of us are woefully ignorant about our insect neighbors.

It is easy to get the impression that most insects are pests that should be avoided or destroyed. This is far from the truth. Only a small fraction of the ten thousand kinds that live in Illinois are undesirables. A much larger number are good ' insects that benefit us in a wide variety of ways. Let's take a few examples. Some pollinate the flowers that produce our fruit. Others devour hordes of bad insects that destroy cultivated crops. Without insects for food, most song birds would starve and most fish would go hungry.

One of the best times to study insects is in early fall when they are plentiful and easy to collect. The place to find them is almost anywhere -- on flowers and fruit, on trees and shrubbery, among grass and weeds, under boards and trash, in soil and rotten wood, in ponds and streams, at windows and under lights at night. It is difficult to name a place where there is none. Whether you are an amateur pursuing a hobby or a student working on a science project, it is best to follow your own interests and inclinations. Making your own collection or learning a few facts by your own observations will mean more to you than looking at museum specimens or reading in textbooks.

Your equipment may be homemade and inexpensive or it may be of professional quality provided by some schools or purchased from supply companies. Ordinarily it includes an insect net, killing bottle, pins and boxes for mounting the collection. Small insects, insect eggs, caterpillars and other larvae are preserved in vials of rubbing alcohol. An assortment of jars, small boxes and other containers are useful for studying living insects and for storing cocoons and galls until the adults emerge. Cyanide killing bottles are too dangerous to be used by youngsters. Nail polish remover, purchased from dime stores and drug stores, is a good substitute.

Several useful pamphlets describe how to make your own equipment; how to make and care for a collection; and how to identify insects. Among them are: "How to collect and preserve insects" by H. H, Ross, 1962, Circular 39, Illinois State Natural History Survey, Urbana. This contains 71 pages of practical information including 80 excellent illustrations. On request, teachers will be sent single copies without charge -- other copies cost twenty-five cents each. "Common Illinois Insects" by A. Gilbert Wright, 1951, Story of Illinois Series, No. 8, Illinois State Museum, Springfield. Its 32 pages and dozens of photographs outline the life histories and habits of our most interesting insect groups. Single copies 25¢. "Insect Life", by Edwin Way Teale, 1960, Merit Badge Series, Boy Scouts of America. Written by a famous naturalist, it rouses keen interest in insects. The directions for making your own equipment are especially useful. Sixty-four pages with many fine photographs and diagrams. Available at Boy Scout Headquarters for 35¢ per copy.

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